Tag Archives: High-Speed Trains

Passengers Grumble About High-Cost Of High-Speed Trains

For all the hype around China’s blossoming high-speed rail network setting new speed records, inaugurating new services and generally becoming the greatest thing since the Shanghai Expo, there is a groundswell of grumbling from the people who have to pay to travel on these modern transports of delight. Bullet-train fares are double those of regular trains, which on some routes have been completely replaced by the faster services. Passengers are saying the tickets are too expensive and some berths are unnecessarily luxurious.

Earlier this week, the Oriental Morning Post reported that four out of five tickets available on a new bullet train running between Shanghai to Chengdu that will start on Jan. 11 are soft sleepers costing more than 1,000 yuan with the top price for 16 luxury sleepers being 2,330 yuan. That is half as expensive again as the airfare between the two cities and more than a month’s wages for a migrant worker. The paper quotes Sun Zhang, a professor from the Transportation Engineering School of Tongji University in Shanghai, criticizing such “exorbitant prices”. He says the fares will be prohibitive for many migrant workers returning from Shanghai to Sichuan for the annual Spring Festival and who usually find it difficult to get a train ticket as it is.

The Xinhua Daily Telegraph, in an appeal to make high-speed rail travel more affordable, relays a similar tale of woe for students, equally cash-strapped and who are having to resort to bus travel as they can’t afford high-speed train fares. A student fare between Wuhan and Guangzhou used to cost 180 yuan on the regular trains that no longer run. The bullet-train fare ranges from 500 yuan to 800 yuan.

The paper also reports that earlier in the year high-speed trains were cancelled between Hankou and Qingdao and between Beijing and Fuzhou for lack of  passengers. Meanwhile, luxury berths have been selling slowly. The Shanghai Evening Post reports that the number of first-class berths on the Beijing-Shanghai run, which cost 1,470 yuan, will be cut to make room for cheaper seats. Pocket-book democracy.

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Track Laying Completed On Beijing-Shanghai High-Speed Rail Line

Track-laying for the world’s longest high-speed rail line, connecting Beijing and Shanghai through the Eastern corridor (see map below), has been completed, Xinhua reports. Construction on the 1,318-kilometer line started in 2008. Service is due to start in 2012, cutting the current 10 hour journey to four. The project will cost 221 billion yuan ($33 billion), though it was original budgeted at 80 billion yuan and meant to be in service by this year.

The country already has a network of some 7,400 kilometers of  high-speed track in service and will have more than 10,000 kilometers once all the planned tracks are completed, giving it the largest high-speed rail network in the world, more than two and a half times longer than second-placed Spain’s and four times longer than third-placed Japan’s. Linking the new high-speed network to local transport has not always been as thoroughly well planned.

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How To Get On And Off A Speeding Train

Royal Mail trains in Britain years ago sped the length and breadth of the country during the night picking up leather sacks of mail as they roared through sleeping stations using a hook and basket mechanism. A sack of mail was suspended by a hook alongside the track. As the mail train approached, a net basket swung open from the side of a carriage, shaped rather like a baseball player’s glove, and scooped the sack in as the train passed. Mail was offloaded by a reverse version. There is a clip of a demo of this here:

and of the real thing about 5 mins into this famous 1936 documentary on the Night Mail.

I often wondered if the same principle couldn’t be applied to passengers, eliminating the need for trains to stop in stations, shortening journey times and making trains more fuel efficient by diminishing the need to accelerate and decelerate. Passengers would obviously need to be treated more delicately than sacks of mail. I have just come across this video of that concept in action, devised by Chen Jianjun from Hubei. He envisages long-distance high-speed trains carrying detachable roof cars that would slide on and off on special tracks as the train passed through a station, picking up boarding passengers and dropping of disembarking ones.

Whether it would work in practice or would be worth the investment, who knows? The engineering challenges would be significant, not least of getting the speeds of joining right so that passengers weren’t whiplashed to death (maglev on maglev, perhaps), but we can’t help but love the idea.

We also remember some 25 years ago a proposal to amalgamate capsule hotels in Japan with the rail system so that drunken salarymen could check into a capsule hotel room shaped like a container that could be shunted onto a train and dispatched to the appropriate dormitory suburb. That. too was an idea that never saw the light of day.

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China And Argentina Still Stuck Over Soy

A country as vast as Argentina is ripe for high-speed rail travel and indeed intercity rail services are undergoing something of a revival there after years of underinvestment. That makes it a ripe export market for China’s burgeoning rail engineering industry.

Argentina look set to buy some $10 billion of Chinese trains and associated rail equipment for both passenger and freight services. China Development Bank is providing a ten-year 273 million dollar loan to be used to buy Chinese high-speed trains from China Northern Locomotive & Rolling Stock Industry.

It was one of a bunch of deals signed during Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner’s just concluded visit at the head of a large trade delegation. It may turn out to be one of the main achievements. Little progress was made on the biggest issue between the two countries, China’s restrictions on the import of Argentine soya products imposed in April on the grounds that chemical residues had been found in some shipments of soya oil, although the action may just be retaliation for Argentine efforts to block imports of Chinese products on anti-dumping grounds and for the President’s last minute cancellation of a state visit to Beijing in January.

China spends some $2 billion a year buying  more than two-thirds of Argentina’s soya exports and is the South American country’s third largest trading partner. Suspension of the trade is serious for Buenos Aires which is relying on a rebound in agricultural sales to spur economic recovery and generate the export taxes needed to get its public finances back in some sort of order. A bilateral commission is to be set up to resolve trade differences, but details remain sketchy.

On his trip to South America in April, President Hu Jintao skipped Argentina between stops in neighbors Brazil and Chile. If the two countries can sort out their trade spat, the next time a Chinese president makes a similar journey he might well be able not just to visit Argentina but to do so in a Chinese built train.

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China Eyes Building High-Speed Railways In U.S. And Europe

China is well into building 25,000 kilometers of high-speed railway lines and spending $300 billion over the next decade on doing so. It is already recouping some of the investment in the expertise is its gaining along the way by building high-speed lines in Turkey and Venezuela. There is a project in Brazil  in the works, as well plans to extend the domestic network into Central and Southeast Asia. Now China’s state-owned rail companies are turning their sights further afield. Western Europe already has a well-developed network of high-speed lines, so countries like Poland are prospects, as is Saudi Arabia in the Middle East. It is the U.S., though, that looks a more potentially fertile market as it has few high-speed lines but plans for $8 billion-worth new networks in California, Florida and Illinois. “We are organizing relevant companies to participate in bidding for U.S. high-speed railways,” Wang Zhiguo, a deputy railways minister, said at a press conference on Saturday.

China’s high-speed trains use mostly French, German and Japanese technology. The Chinese companies are developing their own but none has produced  a production model yet. On his most recent visit, U.S. President Barack Obama said that he would look at China’s high-speed rail technology, but the prospects of spending U.S. stimulus money on a Chinese import of this scale look politically fraught, especially with mid-term elections due this year.

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Bullet Trains Will Cut Beijing-Shanghai Run To Four Hours

Beijing to Shanghai in four hours. Why not? The fast trains between Beijing and Tianjin have cut what was once a two-hour journey to 30 mins, reaching speeds of 240 km/h on scheduled runs and faster in tests. Running high-speed trains to Shanghai, the Ministry of Railways’ deputy chief engineer Zhang Shuguang reckons, could more than halve the current 10-hour trip.

A 1,318 km high speed line is scheduled to be ready within three years, part of the high-speed rail plans baked into the current five-year plan on which the ministry has been giving a progress report. It will be capable of running trains at 380 km/h. That would be faster than the new Shinkansen in Japan which will be able to run at 360 km/h. The current Shinkansen dawdles along at 300 km/h, the same as Siemens’s ICE train.

The ministry says it can have China’s first long-distance bullet trains ready within two years. They would still be slower than the maglev trains used on Shanghai’s  airport connection, which can do 400 km/h. That is currently has the world’s only commercial maglev service. One in the U.K. shut down in 1995 after 11 years of operation because of reliability issues. However, the planned extension of the Shanhai maglev has already incurred extensive cost overruns and maglev trains would be prohibitively expensive to use for long-distance travel — plus the technology is German.

The current 1,463km Beijing-Shanghai line is the busiest in China and increasingly a bottleneck. It carries 10% of the country’s passengers and 7% of its freight. If it works, the new line, which has been in planning since the 1990s and was original scheduled to start operation in 2010 at a cost of $12 billion, will be the template for future high-speed network across the country by 2020.


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